JASON GROVES: Where's Rishi Sunak asked MPs as they did of John Major

JASON GROVES: Ministers rally to Borisside after his grovelling apology, but where’s Rishi, asked MPs, as they once did of John Major

The Prime Minister’s grovelling apology yesterday has bought him some political space. But he is by no means out of the woods.

After days of prevarication, Boris Johnson finally went to the Commons and said sorry for the lockdown-busting party in the No10 garden in May 2020 – and acknowledged ‘the rage (mense) feel with me and with the Government I lead’.

He also acknowledged he had attended the event advertised by his own aide as a ‘Bring Your Own Booze’ celebration, but had believed it was a ‘work event’ permissible under inperking reëls.

The apology was ridiculed by Labour, with Sir Keir Starmer accusing him of ‘lying through his teeth’ during a bruising encounter in the Commons.

But it did lower the political temperature slightly on the Tory benches.

Conservative whips mounted an ‘Operation Fightback’ campaign, persuading Conservative MPs to attend PMQs and ask questions on subjects ranging from washing machines to dinosaurs – anything but parties.

And by mid-afternoon, Cabinet ministers who had remained silent when news of the No10 party broke slowly began to issue statements of support.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak decided to press ahead with an engagement more than 200 miles away in North Devon, leaving him far from the scene – a point not lost on MPs who accuse him of going missing at the first sign of trouble

It evoked memories at Westminster of John Major, who was chancellor when he failed to back Margaret Thatcher in the 1990 Tory leadership battle. Mr Major blamed inflamed wisdom teeth for lying low ¿ and the PM quit, paving the way for him to take over in Downing Street

It evoked memories at Westminster of John Major, who was chancellor when he failed to back Margaret Thatcher in the 1990 Tory leadership battle. Mr Major blamed inflamed wisdom teeth for lying low – and the PM quit, paving the way for him to take over in Downing Street

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries, one of the PM’s biggest cheerleaders, was first out of the blocks, saying Mr Johnson was ‘right to apologise’, but that Whitehall ethics chief Sue Gray should be allowed to complete her inquiry before further judgment was made.

Home Secretary Priti Patel posted a loyal message on the Tory MPs’ WhatsApp group urging colleagues to accept the PM’s ‘heartfelt apologies’ and focus on ‘delivering on the people’s priorities’.

Sajid Javid and Nadhim Zahawi both took to the Commons tearooms to try to shore up support, while Dominic Raab and Jacob Rees-Mogg gave supportive TV interviews.

Michael Gove told MPs at a restive meeting of the 1922 Committee it was no time to get ‘flaky’.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak decided to press ahead with an engagement more than 200 miles away in North Devon, leaving him far from the scene – a point not lost on MPs who accuse him of going missing at the first sign of trouble.

It evoked memories at Westminster of John Major, who was chancellor when he failed to back Margaret Thatcher in the 1990 Tory leadership battle.

Mr Major blamed inflamed wisdom teeth for lying low – and the PM quit, paving the way for him to take over in Downing Street.

Some eight hours after PMQs the Chancellor broke cover, but appeared to fail to express enthusiastic support for Mr Johnson.

Mnr Sunak het gesê: ‘I’ve been on a visit all day today, continuing work on our #PlanForJobs as well as meeting MPs to discuss the energy situation. The PM was right to apologise and I support his request for patience while Sue Gray carries out her inquiry.’

About an hour later, Liz Truss finally came forward with her full support, sê: ‘The Prime Minister is delivering for Britain – from Brexit to the booster programme to economic growth. I stand by the Prime Minister 100 per cent as he takes our country forward.’

Apologies have been as rare as hens’ teeth during Boris Johnson’s long career. It is a sign of the trouble he is in that he has now made three in as many months – first over the handling of the Owen Paterson affair, then over a leaked video of his former press secretary joking about parties in No10 and now about his own attendance at such an event.

Veteran Tory MP Sir Christopher Chope said he had ‘never heard such an abject apology from a government minister’.

But it was not enough for some, who pointed out that while Mr Johnson certainly apologised, he was saying sorry for giving the impression rules had been broken, not admitting they had been.

The PM said he had ‘believed implicitly this was a work event’. He said the event, at which drinks and party food were laid out on long tables, ‘could be said technically to fall within the guidance’.

But he acknowledged there would be ‘millions and millions of people who simply would not see it that way’.

Downing Street is fully aware of the gaps in the PM’s explanation.

The PM said he had ¿believed implicitly this was a work event¿. He said the event, at which drinks and party food were laid out on long tables, ¿could be said technically to fall within the guidance¿. But he acknowledged there would be ¿millions and millions of people who simply would not see it that way¿

The PM said he had ‘believed implicitly this was a work event’. He said the event, at which drinks and party food were laid out on long tables, ‘could be said technically to fall within the guidance’. But he acknowledged there would be ‘millions and millions of people who simply would not see it that way’

During a 45-minute question and answer session with reporters yesterday, his press secretary insisted Mr Johnson had never been sent the damning email sent by his principal private secretary Martin Reynolds inviting 100 staff to ¿make the most of the lovely weather¿

During a 45-minute question and answer session with reporters yesterday, his press secretary insisted Mr Johnson had never been sent the damning email sent by his principal private secretary Martin Reynolds inviting 100 staff to ‘make the most of the lovely weather’








During a 45-minute question and answer session with reporters yesterday, his press secretary insisted Mr Johnson had never been sent the damning email sent by his principal private secretary Martin Reynolds inviting 100 staff to ‘make the most of the lovely weather’.

Maar, in an epic display of stonewalling, she refused to answer even the most basic factual questions about the PM’s 25-minute attendance at the event at the height of lockdown.

Did he have a drink himself? Did he make a speech?

Did his wife Carrie attend the ‘work event’ as sources claim?

In what way does he believe the event may have been legal under the lockdown rules?

All these and many more went unanswered, with the press secretary simply repeating the answer: ‘Matters around guidance, the nature of the gatherings, the purpose and attendance at them, are a matter for the independent review.’

In waarheid, the PM was walking a fine line between appearing contrite and not incriminating himself in what could yet become a police investigation.

Some queried whether the contrition was genuine. One MP claimed the PM had been in denial during a tour of the Commons tearoom yesterday, telling onlookers it was ‘not his fault’ and he was bravely ‘taking the blame for others’.

But others insisted he was genuinely remorseful. One MP said Mr Johnson described feeling ‘electrocuted by the anger of the public’ over the issue and apologised for ‘all the crap I’ve put you through’.

Hoe dit ook al sy, it was not enough for some. Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross, who is close to long-time Boris Hater Ruth Davidson, called on the Prime Minister to resign.

Select committee chairman William Wragg, a vociferous opponent of lockdown rules, echoed the call, saying the PM’s resignation was ‘inevitable’. More worryingly for No10, a number of low-profile MPs with no obvious axes to grind also voiced concerns.

Chris Loder, who was only elected to represent West Dorset in 2019, gesê: ‘I don’t think the apology today was enough, I don’t think it is acceptable in the eyes of many of my constituents.’

One veteran former minister described the mood on the backbenches as ¿sullen but not regicidal¿, saying that the PM was fortunate there was no obvious successor waiting in the wings. Op die foto: Rishi Sunak toured a biotech manufacturing plant in Devon

One veteran former minister described the mood on the backbenches as ‘sullen but not regicidal’, saying that the PM was fortunate there was no obvious successor waiting in the wings. Op die foto: Rishi Sunak toured a biotech manufacturing plant in Devon

One veteran former minister described the mood on the backbenches as ‘sullen but not regicidal’, saying that the PM was fortunate there was no obvious successor waiting in the wings.

‘The only thing keeping him in place is the fact that none of his potential successors are ready,’Het die bron gesê.

No one knows when the formidable Miss Gray will report on the numerous alleged lockdown parties in No10.

Unfortunately for the Prime Minister she has a reputation for being unbiddable – with a previous report ending the Cabinet career of Damian Green at a time when he was deputy prime minister.

If she finds against the PM then the knives could come out quickly. But even if the report is sufficiently fudged that he escapes direct criticism he may not be in the clear.

One Whitehall source said public anger over the affair was running so high that the PM faced a backlash if the perception took hold that he has overseen a whitewash.

The PM’s apology has won him a stay of execution – and he has shown extraordinary skill in wriggling free of past embarrassments. But he needs to use his time now wisely.

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